Welcome to the first in a continuing series of reviews that will look back on films that might have slipped under the radar or simply have passed you by. With the continuing dominance of streaming sites such as Netflix and Amazon Video, it’s become easier to catch up with unsung gems or avoid outright stinkers.
First up is Love & Mercy, otherwise known as ‘that film about Brian Wilson’…
Thankfully eschewing the standard biopic format (see Ray, Walk The Line, blah, blah, blah…), Bill Pohlad’s 2014 film, Love & Mercy, instead positions itself more as a character study of the achingly productive and terrifyingly troubled Brian Wilson and attempts a more interior look at the man rather than simply recreating the edited highlights of his career.
Structurally cutting back and forth between the late 1960s and the 1980s, Wilson is portrayed by both Paul Dano and John Cusack and the film is at its most vibrant when showing Wilson’s incredible gift for songwriting and production, but also submits us to the grueling and heartbreaking treatment meted out to Wilson by both his father and the Svengali-like Dr Eugene Landry (who held Wilson in a horrific grip for years), and draws a clear line between the two figures. Dano and Cusack couldn’t be further apart in their more usual screen personas but here they blend seamlessly to give a fully fleshed out a layered portrayal of this fragile genius.
Performances are strong throughout, with the two leads backed by Elizabeth Banks and Paul Giamatti, but the film’s finest qualities are that it leaves you appreciating Wilson even more, allowing us a glimpse into the beautiful, spiritual sounds he heard so clearly in his head, and thankful that he has been able to find some measure of peace and renewed creativity in his later years.
Finally, Love and Mercy leaves you wanting more and leaves you with the desire to go out and discover (or rediscover) Wilson’s astonishing body of work, and that in itself makes the film both worthwhile and successful.
Image © Lionsgate